Perhaps because it's a bigger deal. Or just that it's someone else's deal. Instead of representing my own deviating, rickety mind, I now must represent children. I don't want to mess it up. But to not say anything would be the real offense.
It took a while to get there.
3 months of fundraising. 8 hours inside airports. 12 hours inside an airplane. a 4 hour bus ride. I'll admit that I wondered whether it was worth it. My goal was to be different coming home, and with any grace, to leave some other people differently than how I found them. I wanted to remind myself of my childness and God's Fatherness, in the midst of a lot of naive questions I had about His goodness. Really, I wanted a solid answer when people asked, "How was it?".
I don't have it.
How can I?
How can I tell you how much it wrings my heart to know she may never run into my arms again? I don't even know her name. But I remember those eyes - full of light - and that little jean jumper - full of dust.
I don't have words for the fullness of The Spirit that stretched out every corner of that room when they broke into song: "I am a winner... in Christ my Lord. A winner I will be... if I am in the Lord. Like a solider in the army... I'm set for war. I am a winner in Christ my Lord."
Set for war.
And they were.
Most four-year-olds smile because they're getting - got - something - are excited because someone's coming home.
These four-year-olds smile like they've tasted death and now rejoice in each breath. Life isn't good, but you can see in their eyes they're excited for what's to come beyond this life.
Life seeped out everywhere. Especially during our first two days in Mankayane. Those kids were kids. Through and through.
Sharks and minnows, anyone?
You forget until you watch one of them run over and pick up a bit of forgotten porridge out of the grass and eat it joyously. You forget until he flashes one of those full-scale grins, revealing a mouthful of black, rotting teeth. You forget until she's sitting on your lap and you stroke a leg wrecked with scabs.
Spiritual warfare has nowhere to hide when every comfort is stripped away. You can't even just watch. You're in it. We were in it. There was a stark difference between the two cities we visited.
In Mankayane, spirits were up, the kids were glowing, and the pastor hung out with us all day. Our Father's love lifted every chin.
However, when our bus rolled up to Gege on Wednesday, my chest physically tightened. Bethany's back injury flared up. Molly and Christina became visibly ill. We looked at each other in puzzled horror, but then chocked it up to mid-week drag, gritted our teeth, and departed the bus in resolve. We owed this new set of kids just as much energetic love. But something wasn't right. They weren't even kids. They were just little bodies roaming around. Their eyes were glazed over - those that would look at me, that is. I still shudder to this day, recalling what it felt like to step off that bus. We went through the motions - the songs, the finger-painting, the Bible skit, the parachute, the bubbles. Nothing.
I'll never forget that one little boy in the red sweater. He toddled over and collapsed in my lap. He was burning up. Every limb was limp. I stroked his face and tried to motion to ask if he felt hot - if I could take his sweater off. He was already asleep.
It's those moments that are close to normal that still stab me.
It's normal for toddlers to want to sit in my lap.
It's not normal for them to instantly fall asleep.
It's normal for kids to be excited about bubbles.
It's not normal for them to instinctively run to fill the bottle back up with water after each puff to "make it last".
It's normal for kids to look forward to lunch.
It's not normal to see siblings slowly feeding each other off the same plate.
It's normal for girls to play clapping games.
It's not normal for the games to end in "beating the loser and throwing her out of the house."
And then there were the traits that weren't even close to normal. To see some of the girls avert their eyes and back away every time one of the guys in our group approached .. to see little ones fall and bleed without making a sound, because they're not used to anyone reacting.. those scenes break me.
But back at our cabin, oh, how the Lord showed up.
Bethany, Justina, Emily, and I all prayed. Out loud. One at a time. For an hour.
And for one of the first times in my life, my eyes were fixed on Our Father the whole time we were in conversation. I believed there was going to be a difference. I believed that Thursday was going to be different than it would have been had we not prayed Wednesday night. It also mattered in a different way because it wasn't about me. My sisters knew it too.
We'd learned from a staff member on our way out that witch craft was prevalent in that area and that the pastor had been cheating the church. Satan was dancing on sacred ground and we were sick of (and from) it.
The need was too desperate to detach from prayer.
In the morning, the kids were still vacant.. at first. But we marched in for battle, led by Our King.
We marched right around the perimeter of the church, dispelling all demons in the name of Jesus.
The suffocating sackcloth lifted.
Our team's physical conditions improved.
The little ones warmed up and there was a different spark in them.
All hail the power of Jesus' name.
The kids were back.
Then we got to meet their parents.
Each afternoon we'd split up into groups of four, load up our shoulders with bags of corn meal and follow a chosen child home.
He or she would skip ahead of us with delight, beating the grass out of our way with a stick. I thought the grass-clearing was cute until one little boy who spoke English revealed to me that the stick was actually to scare away the black mambas. Not cute.
The families and their homes were desperate. There's no pretty way of describing them. It was hard.
What I can tell you is that sitting there, in their lives, faith didn't make a lot of sense.
Where I live, it kinda does. It's what people do.
But there, why.. why would you believe? Unless you knew God. I mean, really knew Him.
Patiswa's grandmother sat in the dirt at our feet, batting at the gaunt chickens that were clamoring for the water she had offered us. We asked her through the translator what it's like to live in Gege. She looked up - but just past our eyes - towards someone she knew better. "I know God is our protector and provider. And so I wait."
With her eyes up.
Every day she prays that they (she and the 9 grandchildren abandoned to her care) will have enough food.
"And today my prayer has been answered."
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
I "work hard" at dependence. Yet her genuine, unshaken dependence deflated every pride cell in me.
In what ways should/could I be praying for my daily bread for that?
If I truly recognized that God is keeping me alive every day, would I smile differently?
If I deep-down believed that He is intimately interested in my desires, would I pray differently?
Seeing her light up when she talked about Our Father reminded me of my own soul poverty. True to the nature Christ promises, she shimmered like refined gold.
That woman has a friendship - an absolutely vulnerable and rock solid friendship - with the Most High God.